In September 2020, BTS became the first Korean singing group to win a Billboard Hot 100 title, drawing worldwide attention. K-pop has been growing, but recently its spread is increasing and various contents have been created or re-examined at home and abroad. Let’s look at the status of K-pop that is promoting Korea, understand the nature of the spread of K-pop, and recognize the K-pop’s direction as it goes through its current problems.
Expanding K-pop Industry
On September 28, 2020, BTS's new song ‘Dynamite’ became famous because it topped the Billboard main single chart ‘Hot 100,’ the first time for a Korean singing group. BTS released ‘Dynamite’ on September 21, 2020, and said "Through this song, we want to give energy to people around the world who are having a hard time with Corona 19." BTS had previously topped the Billboard 200 chart four times, but it received more attention because this was the first time for BTS to win the Hot 100. Billboard’s main chart is divided into the single chart (Hot 100) which select the most popular songs, and album chart (Billboard 200) which ranks album sales. It is significant that BTS ranked first in both areas, because the Billboard 200 chart is heavily influenced by the size of the fandom, and the Hot 100 reflects how popular a song is in the United States. Billboard said, “‘Dynamite’ gained the most popularity and sold the most in the world.” In addition, Billboard indicated that the number of global streamings recorded 92.1 million, an increase of 16% from the previous week after the release of the BTS album. On October 1, 2020, President Moon Jae-In also congratulated BTS’s achievement of the Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 through SNS. He said “BTS has set a new record of dominating both the two major Billboard charts, following their topping the Billboard 200 four times. This is a feat that raises the pride of K-pop.” Additionally, on October 13, 2020, Jawsh 685's ‘Savage Love,’ a song featuring BTS, topped the ‘Hot 100.’ list, while their song ‘Dynamite’ also maintained second place on the same chart, so they set an amazing record of winning both of Billboard’s 1st and 2nd places at the same time. Only five groups including The Beatles, have achieved a 1st and 2nd place in the Hot 100 at the same time, and BTS is included in the list.
In addition to BTS, other K-pop groups are attracting worldwide attention. Because of easy global access to K-pop contents, and due to the development of digital platforms such as YouTube, the demand for K-pop is increasing in various countries. BLACKPINK, one of the most popular K-pop groups in the world, has been rapidly increasing the number of YouTube subscribers since the release of ‘How You Like That’ in June 2020. As of November 2020, BLACKPINK had 53.4 million subscribers, the largest single channel in Korea, ranking first as a female musician in the world, and about 10 million more than Ariana Grande, the second largest. Moreover, despite the global trend of shrinking the physical music markets, sales of K-pop albums have increased significantly, proving the power of K-pop fandom worldwide. According to the Hyundai Research Institute in September 2020, the size of the global physical music market grew by an average of –5.7% from 2013 to 2019, but sales of K-pop physical albums grew by an average of 27.7% annually during the same period. Even in the first half of 2020, Sales of K-pop albums also rose 41.9% compared to the previous year when they were unable to promote their new songs due to the failure of offline performances, such as showcases and music broadcasts, because of Corona 19. As we can see from these statistics, K-Pop is attracting a lot of attention worldwide beyond Korea.
Various Spreads Of K-pop
K-pop is spreading through world tours, active singers' own contents, and the production of contents by fans. First, with its popularity, K-POP has become a mainstream genre in the global performance market, enabling K-pop singers to actively tour the world. World tours were done by the 2 or 3 top groups such as Big Bang and Girls' Generation a few years ago, but world tours have recently expanded to all of K-pop. According to the Dong-A Ilbo in April 2019, officials of the K-pop music agency said, "The recent expansion of the K-pop performance market is remarkable, as shown by the fact that even singers who are unfamiliar to us are on tours to Europe and South America." In January 2019, a K-pop boy idol group, MXM held a performance in New Jersey in the United States. The concert was priced at $199 (about 230,000 won), including a fan signing event and an event to take pictures with the singers. MXM is not yet a very popular idol group in Korea, but the concert hall was filled with foreign fans who sang along and had memorized the fan chants.
Secondly, K-pop singers are creating their own contents in various formats, which is very popular. In June 2019, JYP Entertainment presented a teaser video for K-pop boy group Stray Kids' own content "CH. SKZ" on YouTube, to announce the release of various contents. It is a program that releases contents every week like a single broadcasting channel, and content is frequently uploaded during both the singer’s active and inactive periods. Various compositions of contents such as ‘SKZ-TALKER’, ‘Two Kids Room’, ‘SPOT KIDS’ and ‘CHOISKZ’ are loved by overseas fans because it shows different side of Stray Kids. Among them, SKZ-TALKER is a Vlog content that records things during Stray Kids’ activities, and Two Kids Room is a content in which the two members talk to each other in one room, and fans can know what the members are thinking. With this active and diverse contents, Stray Kids are becoming more popular overseas than in Korea. In fact, if you search for Stray Kids' videos on YouTube, you can see that most of the comments are in English.
Finally, beyond the contents of the agency, fans are also creating various contents to attract other fans. Because it is difficult for overseas K-pop fans to participate in various events such as music broadcasting, concerts, and fan signing events in Korea, they are creating their own contents on YouTube, revealing and expressing their fandom. Among them, K-pop Cover Dance is a content of famous fans which started in Southeast Asia and is now popular in Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and the United States. In particular, ‘K-pop In Public Challenge’ is a trend. It is a cover dance in public places. As of November 2020, K-pop in public challenge which covered the BLACKPINK’s DUDUDU by GUN Dance Team, a Vietnamese cover dance team with 250,000 subscribers, is achieving huge popularity with 32.64 million views. These contents naturally serve as ambassadors for K-pop. Some people become K-pop fans when they find and listen to original songs after watching fans’ contents, instead of by listening to K-pop songs first.
More Globalized K-Pop Content
K-pop content is shown to be global by appearing in Hollywood movies or collaborating with global pop stars. In the past, when the West describing Asian culture, mainly Japan and China appeared, but recently, Korean culture has frequently appeared in the form of K-pop. In April 2020, DreamWorks' animation "Troll: World Tour," received attention because the Red Velvet Trolls appeared as K-pop trolls. Red Velvet became a hot topic for appearing in the movie Highlight and playing the voice of a K-pop troll directly. In the dance battle scene between K-pop trolls and Reggae trolls, the K-pop troll presents Red Velvet's representative song 'Russian Roulette' with its dance. In this way, it is easy to see the influence of K-pop in Hollywood movies.
As K-Pop's status rises, collaboration songs with global pop stars and K-pop singers also have been released. On March 18, 2020, Hwa-Sa, a member of K-pop girl group MAMAMOO, made headlines for being featuring in the new song ‘Physical’ by world popular pop star Dua Lipa. In December 2019, they held a joint performance at the ‘Mnet Asian Music Awards (MAMA)’ which became a hot topic. Afterwards, Dua Lipa requested to work on a song with Hwa-Sa. Moreover, on September 23, 2020, the collaboration song ‘Bad Boy’ was released. It is a collaboration song between K-pop singer Chung-Ha and Pop singer Christopher. This also made headlines because a global pop star suggested a collaboration song first. Christopher expressed his opinion that he wanted to sing his precious duet song with a K-pop singer, and Warner Music Korea recommended Chung-Ha for the collaboration. Christopher said, "It was a very pleasant experience with Chung-Ha. Chung-Ha's voice was added to the song, giving it a new life. This track and Chung-Ha's voice matched well, so the song was a success. Thanks to Chung-Ha, I've got the most satisfying song.” Chung-Ha also said, "I was a huge fan of Christopher and it was an honor to work with him. If I have a chance, I'd like to sing 'Bad Boy' with Christopher on the same stage.”
The Continuing Popularity Of K-pop In Korea
K-pop is also being re-examined in Korea for its various contents. Let's find out what K-pop contents are in the spotlight in Korea. These days, the past K-pop songs are gaining popularity again, and contents that highlights singers' talents are becoming important. On September 8, 2020, Boo Seung-Kwan, a member of the group Seventeen, hosting a three-hour live broadcast on V LIVE to play old K-pop songs. The live broadcast title was "WE REMEMBER KPOP," and Seung-Kwan started the show with Wonder Girls' ‘So Hot’ as background music, said "I am going to play some songs in my memory.” He added his own experience and thrilling part explanation to an interesting broadcast, which quickly spread by word of mouth on SNS, so K-pop fans, aside from Seventeen fans, also flocked to his show, surpassing 3.6 million viewers in real time. Then Various K-pop fans, not SEVENTEEN fans, also came to his V live and surpassed 3.6 million viewers in real time. Even after that broadcast, reviews from K-pop fans continued with "Professor Boo Seung-Kwan's Beneficial Lecture.” Furthermore, ‘Professor Boo Seung-Kwan’ became a popular search keyword on Melon, the Korean largest music site.
In this way, K-pop memory-centered content is gaining popularity again in Korea. The YouTube channel Civilization Express, which has one million subscribers as of December 2020, is gaining popularity among netizens by continuously posting contents called SumDeudMyeong, The best Hidden songs on YouTube. SumDeudMyeong is short for hidden masterpieces, which mainly refers to K-pop songs that become ‘Guilty Pleasure’ which are songs that are embarrassing to listen to outside or its lyrics are gibberish and esoteric. Due to the popularity of SumDeudMyeong, in September 2020, SBS specially organized ‘SumDeudMyeong Concert’ as a special Chuseok program. This program which aired at 11 p.m., caught a lot of attention on SNS as it recreates the memorable stages of singers who were loved in the mid- to late 2000s and early 2010s. Starting with Narsha's ‘Bbi-Ri-Bop-A’, it showed performances of TeenTop's ‘No More Perfume On You’, U-Kiss's ‘Am I That Easy? (ManManHaNi)’ T-ara's ‘Roly Poly’ and ‘Sexy Love’ and SS501's ‘U R MAN’. Among them, T-ara’s ‘Roly Poly’ stage video posted on YouTube has garnered 3.52 million views, making it a big topic between netizens. In this video comment, one netizen was seen enjoying the concert, wrote a comment, “It’s so good to see the idol singers' performances that I used to sing when I was in elementary school.”
In addition, K-pop singers' outstanding contents have gained sensational popularity. The dance practice of K-pop girl group ITZY's ‘Not Shy’ surpassed 3 million views in a day, ranking second in YouTube's Trending Video Chart. The video made headlines because of the performers' live performance skills. Usually, singers only dance to the song in the dance practice video, but in this video, ITZY members also sang along with the dance. Despite the difficult choreography and complicated movements, all five ITZY members performed a perfect live performance that was no different from the original song, and this became a hot topic for netizens. The netizen who saw this video was amazed said, "How is the live performance so perfect when I dance like that?" and "Even though it's a live performance, they're so good." In addition, contents such as MR removal videos and double speed dance, which show the singers' skills, continue to be popular on Korean portal sites.
The Way For K-pop To Go
Meanwhile, as K-pop has become globalized, racial controversy have emerged between Korean and foreign fandom. Overseas fans criticize the domestic practice of correcting idols' faces as ‘whitewashing’, and then some Korean fans also disparage overseas fans as ‘Oekwi’ that means foreign cockroach. One of the controversies, a comment written by a Korean netizen about BLACKPINK Lisa was highly controversial. It is as follows. "When She put on makeup, I looked like a Russian elf, but when She removed her makeup, She just a Thai woman." The comment which was listed as the best comment was immediately translated and known to K-pop fans in Southeast Asia including Thailand and The Thai broadcast introduced this comment brought up the issue of racism. The angry overseas fandom left a message of support on Twitter through a hashtag movement called #respectlisa. In an interview with the Kyunghyang Shinmun, Pakistani Rema said about this controversy, "In order for K-pop to expand into the mainstream of the world, it must increase sensitivity to racial and cultural diversity."
On the other hand, the Korean agencies are planning on ‘K-pop without Koreans’ that combines local talented person with know-how to produce K-pop idols. In other words, it expands the identity of K-pop from the Korean to the global region by combining know-how in various costumes, visual elements, makeup, music videos, choreography, etc. with local talent. Professor Kim Young-dae also said, "The relationship between K-pop and Korea will change like the relationship between ballet and Russia in the future. K-pop has become a kind of 'official' that left the country. Moreover, JYP Entertainment is planning to debut as a Japanese girl group on December 2, 2020 through the ‘Nizi Project’ jointly conducted with Sony Music in Japan. Nizi project's pre-debut song ‘Make You Happy’ surpassed 10 million views in just one day after its release on June 26, 2020. Yahoo Japan News expressed their expectations for the Nizi project and said, "As shown in the popularity of BTS, Black Pink, and Twice, K-pop has become a culture in their teens and 20s for many years." In this way, Korean agencies have tried to create a K-pop without Korean beyond the racial conflict.
The influence of K-pop is growing around the world. A few years ago, there were critical voices that said, “Will there be a second BTS?” But with the growth of other K-Pop singing groups including Black Pink, the status of K-Pop seems to be recognized. As a result, various K-Pop contents have been produced and are still popular. However, the racist controversy continues within K-pop fandom, if overcome, so although this matter must be overcome, K-pop will be able to become a genre beyond Korea.
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